Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

civilization, who can not be supposed more partial to Greece than to Rome, have with one accord confirmed the taste of the older country. Such a general and Zealous return to the rules of ancient art, where there has been no power used to compel, and no common prejudice prevailing, nay, in spite of different national prejudices, can be explained only by reference to some permanent principles in human nature; while the reign of Roman taste is easily accounted for by the sovereign, political, and military influence of the imperial city, and the pride and luxurious habits of the people.

The diversity of opinion among cotemporaneous nations on matters of taste, can for the most part be accounted for by inequality of knowledge, and national prejudice. Thus the French were wont to despise Shakspeare, while they refused to study him, because he was an Englishman. They praise him now, when they give him a hearing, and take the trouble to understand him. Both French and English hooted at German literature, while it was but partially known and greatly misapprehended among them, and because they had preconceived of stupidity as inherent in all German brains. Now Goëthe and Schiller have fairly taken their places, even in French and English estimation, among the great ones of the earth. Consequently, we infer that French, German, and English taste is the same, where no cause exterior to itself interferes on either side.

In regard to the more remarkable objects of sense, the unanimity of mankind is almost perfect. Who refuses to acknowledge the green fields of spring as beautiful? And wherefore do thousands, year after year, visit the banks of the Rhine and the lakes of Italy? Persons from all quarters of the world have looked upon Niagara, and all, whatever their first impressions, finally agree as to its sublimity.

Such is also the case in regard to ancient works of literature. For twenty-seven hundred years, the poems of Homer have afforded pleasure to all who have given them intelligent perusal. The works of Æschylus, of Sophocles, of Herodotus, of Plato, etc., why have they been preserved with so much care by generation after generation, for more than two thousand years ? No other reason can be assigned than the pleasure which they have furnished every intelligent reader. The temple of Minerva Parthenon, even in ruins, is a topic upon which every traveler to Athens loves to dwell. Can we doubt, that if it had been preserved in all its ancient beauty, it would still be admired with as much enthusiasm as in the days of Pericles? The Venus de Medici, the Apollo Belvidere, and Antinous, modeled to the taste of ancient times, are found to command the approbation of that of modern times. Such, in short, is the testimony of all extant works of ancient literature and art, whose merits are in their beauty. We have thus, in fact, the recorded vote of many ages and countries on the subject, satisfactorily proving that the good taste of antiquity is good taste still; and that the leading principles, according to which such works are produced, are acknowledged, when understood, by all men. Many reasons may be assigned for partial and superficial difference; but only one can account for universally radical agreement.

There is ground, then, for the distinction of tastes into correct and false, or good and bad, and errors can be controverted here, as well as in other fields of intellectual effort, not by appeal to a standard, but by adducing arguments drawn from the unchanging principles of human nature, and the material world. The decision upon the accordance or non-accordance to the human spirit, of all things external to itself, is not the fickle, accidental and isolated choice of the individual; but the inevitable, universal determination of the mind in obedience to a law of its being; and the agreement of those decisions is not effected, nor to be effected by the procrustean method of measuring all by an arbitrary standard, but by the exhibition of conformity to acknowledged principles.

Such being the case, the author or artist is under no necessity of cleaving to a given model, and of reproducing forms already familiar, effects already attained; he may contemplate results hitherto undreamed of by others, and yet, if those principles are kept steadily in view, and he is able in his work completely to fill their requisitions, he may produce what shall certainly please the correctly informed and unbiassed, and what posterity will not readily suffer to die.

Radical principles being universally acknowledged, inferior differences may be reconciled by comparison of opinions, and reasoning on the basis of common feeling. The subject is a fair field of argument. So far is the adage, that “ tastes are not to be disputed,” from being true, that few things are more frequently disputed, and in view of some principles, more easily disputed, than bad taste. Good taste, resulting from the union of natural sensibility with judgment, assumes a different character as one or the other predominates. Where the sensibility is active, there must be delicate taste, and warm enthusiasm toward its objects; where the sensibility is under the control of a sounder or severer judgment, there will be greater correctness and a firmer attachment to the objects preferred.

The existence of both in a high degree in one mind, constitutes what is called refined taste, which is never attained without much observation and patient thought. For the first natural susceptibility can be improved and further developed by exercise, and I need not add that the judgment has to be cultivated by extensive and careful comparison.

CHAPTER II.

OF SOME OF THE MORE PROMINENT AND DANGEROUS

FORMS OF BAD TASTE.

HAVING come to the conclusion that the elementary principles of good taste are the common inheritance of humanity, it very naturally occurs to enquire, why then do we see so few in whom those elements are developed in any eminent degree.

I reply, in the first place, it is due to the same cause which gives rise to that other phenomenon, that though men are generally possessed of reason, few are philosophers. Abilities of ordinary degrees are best for ordinary purposes, and the highest are not conferred upon all: and if the emotion is capable of being rendered more active by exercise, it may also become more sluggish through neglect. Secondly, the judgment is not often sufficiently trained to make any approach toward perfection in its decisions. Thirdly, indolence, the cause of various other deficiencies, induces men to forego many an intellectual pleasure, which they are fully competent to enjoy. Fourthly, ignorance of the true relations of things, leads to many a false decision

« AnteriorContinuar »